By CONOR NICHOLL - Cnicholl1@gmail.com
The collective theme of the boys’ state wrestling tournaments hovers around several of the state’s most respected coaches: Hoxie’s Mike Porsch in 3-2-1A, Mill Valley’s Travis Keal and Washburn Rural’s Damon Parker in 6A, and Chanute’s Andy Albright in 4A. Only Hoxie has previously won a state title. All four coaches have had great teams, though none has captured a title – though each one has an excellent chance this weekend.
In 5A, Maize, Blue Valley Southwest and Great Bend all look to accomplish school history. 3-2-1A is at Fort Hays, 4A in Salina, and 5A/6A in Park City. Action is Friday and Saturday.
Class 3-2-1A: Hoxie builds depth at all four grades, in position for first crown since ’03
Hoxie coach Mike Porsch has served a quarter century on staff with the Indians, the last 14 as head coach. Hoxie is one of the great 3-2-1A powers in Kansas history with 10 overall team championships, the last coming in ’02 and ’03. The entrance to Hoxie’s gymnasium is adorned with the wrestling success, including a wall of state placers and a picture and achievements of every state titlist.
In recent seasons, the Indians, generally a small Class 2A school or a 1A program, normally have the smallest enrollment among 3-2-1A contenders. Hoxie has produced a bevy of excellent individuals with coach Porsch. Eight Indians have won at least one state title since 2010, according to kansashswrestling.com records.
His younger son, Dayton, graduated last year after four state championships. His older son, Tristan, captured two crowns. Calvin Ochs set two state records and won two titles, one of them in ’13. That year, Hoxie captured three individual golds, though still took second, well behind titlist Norton.
From 2012-19, Hoxie has two state runner-ups, along with three thirds and a fifth. The Indians took fourth at regionals and third at state the last winter with four qualifiers, all regional titlists. Three return. Drew Bell and Aidan Baalman were fourth at 120 and 145, respectively. Dylan Weimer captured the 132 crown, the tenth straight year Hoxie delivered an individual champion.
This season, though, Hoxie again has elite talent – and depth. The Indians filled all but one weight class at regional and qualified eight for the state meet.
“Numbers,” Porsch said of the differences between this winter and past years. “Numbers is one of the big ones, I’m (not) going to lie. We filled 13 weights going into the regional tournament. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve been able to do that.”
Hoxie, ranked No. 1 in 3-2-1A the majority of the winter, is the favorite. The Indians have defeated second-ranked Norton at several meets, notably the Bluejays’ own tournament and the Norton regional last weekend. Beloit is ranked third, followed by Rossville, Larned, Hoisington and Republic County. RC won the Russell regional, its first regional title since 1977. Hoxie, Beloit and Republic County tied for the second-most qualifiers, one behind Norton.
“Even before we stepped on the mat, there was a lot of talk through the summer between the kids,” coach Porsch said. “’Well, I think I can fit into this weight. I will lose down and get to this weight.’ They’ve figuring that stuff out early on, and knowing that what we were doing in the room could pay off.”
In addition to Hoxie’s talent, multiple returning state champions return. Hoisington senior Wyatt Pedigo, a North Dakota football signee, is a two-time defending state champion. He is 33-0 at 195, the only 3-2-1A wrestler with more than five wins and a perfect record. Plainville senior Jordan Finnesy (35-2, No. 1 at 182) is a returning state titlist, along with Rossville senior Zach Archer (37-1, No. 1 at 113).
Class 285 is expected to one of the deepest with Sylvan-Lucas junior Tra Barrientes, Ellsworth senior Tyler Walford, Republic County senior Eyann Zimmerman, and Beloit senior Creighton Johnson ranked first through fourth, respectively. All are from the Russell regional. Johnson faces WaKeeney-Trego’s Parker Opat, ranked fifth, in the first round.
Porsch remembers Hoxie having similar roster sizes to 2020 in ’11 and ’12. Then, Porsch said the numbers “started kind of tailing off.” Hoxie’s overall enrollment numbers dwindled. One year, Porsch remembered “about five kids” in the entire room.
“We are double the class size back up again,” Porsch said. “So that helps. So probably eight, 10 years since we have this many kids in the room. It’s really exciting.”
Porsch was pleased that all four grades are represented among the Indians’ state qualifiers.
“That’s great, we kind of started getting that continuity with the returners from last year, just that expectation,” he said.
Three freshmen, Wayne Shepard (23-19), Drew Bretz (34-8) and Derek Johnson (37-2), qualified at 106, 120 and 132, respectively.
“These freshmen believe…,” Porsch said. “They have seen some freshmen win state titles, and place high at the state, and I think that’s the biggest thing. But numbers help, I guarantee you numbers help.”
Bretz is ranked third. Johnson is second, behind Silver Lake junior Kai Allen, a defending titlist.
“He wrestles through positions really well,” Porsch said of Johnson. “He has got good leg attacks on his feet.”
Two sophomores qualified: Bell (37-2) and 220-pounder Brandon Baker (24-15). Bell is ranked first at 126, a spot ahead of Phillipsburg senior Jacob Sisson.
Bell is 3-0 against Sisson this winter, all by decision, including a 4-2 win in the regional final. Sisson has been first and second at state the last two seasons.
“It sure could be a state finals match or a state semifinals-caliber match every time,” Porsch said. “So you got to expect those matches to be close. That’s the kind of matches you want through the season. Drew put so much time in last summer, more than any other kid. Jumping levels – he was outstanding last year – he’s just gotten better yet.”
Baalman, a junior, is 40-3 and ranked second at 152. Baalman has not lost to a 3-2-1A wrestler.
“Every time he has taken a loss, it seems like he just doubles down, and the next match he’s coming back,” Porsch said. “He reacts in the right way, the way you want a kid to react.”
Seniors Weimer (23-2 at 138) and Andrew Foote (30-10, 160) are at state. Weimer is ranked first. He missed time early in wrestling. Weimer played the last several football games with broken bones in his hand.
Foote had lost in the “blood round,” or the consolation semifinal round that yields the final state qualifiers, the last two years.
“He’d be in the Monday after the regional tournament without missing a beat and helping his teammates get ready to go and doing everything he could through the season,” Porsch said. “ And just never quit believing that the process would get him to where he wanted to be, and he’s really stepped up this senior year. It’s good to see when hard work pays off.”
Overall, Hoxie’s depth yielded 180 regional points, 11.5 ahead of Norton.
“We’d always thought we’d be in the conversation,” Porsch said of the title. “We are still in it. That’s where we want to be.”
Class 6A: Mill Valley and Washburn Rural look for first state team titles; MV’s Coach Keal has highly ranked twin senior sons; Olathe North’s Slyter nearing record wins mark
Earlier in his career, Washburn Rural coach Damon Parker coached kids’ wrestling in Mill Valley for around five seasons. He has known Mill Valley coach Travis Keal for well over a decade. Keal has coached the Jaguars since the first day the school opened in ’00-01.
This weekend, Mill Valley and Washburn Rural are ranked first and second, respectively, in Class 6A. Both have a strong chance for the first team titles in school annals. Both squads won regionals last week. Parker believed the Junior Blues could qualify all 14 to state; WR accomplished the feat. Mill Valley brings 11 to state.
Parker believes the state tournament could come down to the finals, similar to 2018 when Olathe North edged Washburn Rural, 151-149.5 for the team crown.
“With the boys, to be honest, I am pretty good at looking at a bracket and knowing how it’s going to shake out,” Parker said. “I was within a couple points of predicting how our regional would end up.”
Keal has his twin sons as seniors this winter. Multiple times, Keal has posted on social media how much he has enjoyed the experiences of coaching his boys. Zach, an Army West Point signing, is ranked first at 132 at 36-5. Austin, an Arkansas-Little Rock signee, is ranked third at 145 with a 35-11 mark.
MV has multiple ranked wrestlers, including junior Ethan Kremer, top-ranked at 285. Kremer is the defending state titlist at 220. Kremer, also the reigning 5A Defensive Player of the Year as a lineman, missed several weeks with injury in wrestling.
Kremer returned Feb. 8 and captured league and regional titles with a combined 7-0 record. Six of the wins came by fall in 2 minutes, 38 seconds or less. Kremer, a high academic student, wants to be an engineer. Air Force watched him at practice this week. Ivy League schools Brown and Princeton have strong interest for Kremer in football. He stands at 24-2.
As well, freshman Eddie Hughart (32-10), junior Carson Dulitz (33-13), junior Brodie Scott (35-5), and senior Tyler Green (17-6) are ranked at 106, 138, 170, and 195, respectively. Green has signed with Dartmouth football.
Keal, a Parsons native, wrestled at Labette County Community College for coach Jody Thompson, in the LCCC Hall of Fame. Thompson remains one of the top people to guide Keal’s career.
“What would coach Thompson do?,” Keal will sometimes ask himself.
Keal, one of the state’s most respected coaches, changed his mindset in the mid-2000s. Keal also helped with football. Then, Keal realized he needed to become “consumed” with wrestling if MV’s program was going to improve. He focused on wrestling. Keal started to travel, notably to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado and Oklahoma State University’s legendary coach John Smith.
Keal learned how to better build relationships with wrestlers and connect with each individual. Additionally, the top coaches taught Keal about practice plans and keeping practices fresh. MV has intense practices that are normally shorter than the majority of teams. Keal also honed on the smaller, crucial parts of technique.
Mill Valley’s program basically runs year round. The older Jaguars serve as mentors for the newer wrestlers. Mill Valley has kept a highly challenging schedule the last several winters, including the Basehor-Linwood Bobcat Classic, the 50-team KC Stampede, Council Bluffs (Iowa) where MV took ninth out of 40 squads.
The team has strong chemistry, including get-togethers outside of practice, such as morning breakfast and the Super Bowl. In ’18-19, the team’s supporting group, known as the Takedown Club, had more than 80 members listed on the team’s web site.
Keal has earned multiple coaching awards, including 5A Coach of the Year and Kansas Wrestling Officials Coach of the Year. He has served as Head Kansas Cadet Coach for Greco/Freestyle. Keal’s work has shifted the program. Mill Valley has five individual champions, all but one since ’14.
Mill Valley’s expectation the last seven to eight years has been a state title. From ’15-18, MV has its best state showings: third, third, fourth and fourth, though was in 5A with powerhouse Goddard. Last year, the Jaguars moved to 6A and took seventh. Since Dec. 30, MV has ranked first in the classification.
Rural, which was ranked first Dec. 16 and has consistently been in the top-three, features senior Gavin Carter, 37-0 and ranked atop 195. Parker has said he will never coach another Gavin Carter, and believes Carter would make a great coach. Carter earned top regional wrestler honors. Senior Bishop Murray (30-3) is ranked second at 113.
Carter joins Wichita West sophomore Quentin Saunders (28-0 at 182) and Dodge City sophomore Damian Mendez (24-0 at 113) as the 6A undefeated wrestlers. Olathe North senior Keegan Slyter, a Little Rock commit, is 52-1 at 126. Slyter is a win away from the all-time single season wins record in state history, according to Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association records.
Washburn Rural 145-pound senior John Vincent (25-12) earned four straight yearly team Iron Man awards for never missing a practice. Senior Andrew Davis (26-4) is second at 220. Junior David Huckstep (26-7) is third at 285. Last year, Huckstep took fifth at state, while Davis was not a state qualifier.
Parker did not want a potential state medalist on JV and wanted the two in different weights. He originally thought Huckstep would drop down.
“Then Davis just put his nose to the grindstone and the weight started falling off, and now he’s down even more than that,” Parker said. “I thought it was going to be a struggle all year, but he is walking around at about 210 right now, so weight really hasn’t been an issue for either one. But it took him till Christmas to get it right.”
5A: Maize, BVSW, Great Bend look for school history
Goddard, which has won five straight state titles, is again the heavy state favorite to win 5A. The Lions have three No. 1-ranked wrestlers with sophomore Jerrdon Fisher (132), senior Trevor Dopps (182) and senior Devon Dawson (285). Goddard also has second-ranked wrestlers with senior Jason Henschel (120) and junior Jace Fisher (152), junior Cayleb Atkins (160) and sophomore Kaden Glass (195).
Maize is ranked second, Blue Valley Southwest third, followed by Arkansas City, St. Thomas Aquinas and Great Bend. Maize has never won a state title. BVSW finished third at state last winter, the best season in school history, and could better that this weekend. The Timberwolves feature No. 1-ranked wrestlers with sophomore Hayden Mills (113), sophomore Brett Umentum (126), while senior Seth Nitzel is ranked second at 170.
Nitzel is 39-0. He and Maize senior Duwayne Villalpando (29-1) could match up in one of the state’s most anticipated finals. Maize junior Kyle Haas, 24-0 and ranked second nationally at 220, along with 152-pound senior Devin Gomez (22-0). In the last two seasons, Haas is 72-1 and Gomez is 72-0. Haas is expected to meet St. James senior Cade Lautt (39-1) in the finals. Lautt, a North Carolina wrestling commit, has been ranked sixth in the country.
Villalpando won state in ’18 before he was out with injury last year. Only one wrestler in Maize history has captured multiple state titles (Zach Hentzen in ’05 and ’07).
Nathan Broeckelman, a two-time state champion at Norton in ’06-07 and former head Tribune-Greeley County coach, took over Great Bend five years ago. Broeckelman learned the Panthers had a then-talented group of eighth graders. That core is now Great Bend’s senior class. Last winter, the Panthers took sixth in 5A, up seven spots from 2018.
Great Bend has finished with a top-three finish and team trophy just twice, and just once in at least the last three decades with a second place in 1999.
“This senior class has been working for this last couple tournaments here for the last four years, and they have hung in,” Broeckelman said. “They want to do well, and they want to be the best team that’s gone through Great Bend.”
This year, the Panthers qualified 11 for state, including eight seniors. Namely, Drew Liles (35-4), Carsyn Schooler (30-6), George Weber (30-4), Gage Fritz (41-2), Alex Randolph (36-7) lead the way at 126, 132, 138, 145, and 160, respectively. Schooler was hurt at regionals.
Randolph, on varsity just three years, has broken the school pin record. He has around a 75 percent pin rate, which Broeckelman called “pretty impressive.”
“They have pretty much taken care of the record books,” Broeckelman said.
In the 5A rankings, Liles and Schooler are ranked sixth, Weber and Fritz second. Randolph was fourth entering regionals. Great Bend has 13 individual crowns with the last coming from Chris Burley in 2011 and ’13, according to kansashswrestling.com.
“They have been kind of picking it up a little bit,” Broeckelman said. “They kind of realized this is going to be their last go-around and try to get their name up on our state championship wall.”
Class 4A: Chanute, ranked No. 1 again, looks for first title
From 2010-19, Chanute had an average state placing of 8.6. Just once did the Blue Comets go outside of the top-12. Chanute finished second twice in ’14 and ’15. The first time, the Blue Comets were well behind Holton. However, in ’15, Chanute fell by just eight points to Baldwin. Last year, Chanute was ranked first after regionals, though had zero No. 1-ranked wrestlers and finished sixth at state.
This winter, Chanute is again coming off a regional title. This time, the Blue Comets have more wrestlers higher in the rankings and could capture their first-ever team championship. Defending champion Marysville is ranked second. As well, Chanute has 12 qualifiers, easily the most in 4A. The Blue Comets returned eight state qualifiers.
“My new philosophy this year is I want to embrace these kids,” Chanute coach Andy Albright said. “And try not to get so wrapped up in the wins and losses. It’s really tough to do as a coach. I don’t care what sport it is, is that you start worrying about winning and losing, and you kind of lose focus on the student-athlete. And so this year I’ve really just kind of stepped back and just tried to enjoy every minute with these young men, because we have a lot of seniors, and they are really, really special, and their families are now close friends.”
Class 4A has two undefeated wrestlers: Santa Fe Trail 285-pound senior Evan Dean is 41-0, and KC Piper 182-pound junior Branden Martin stands at 30-0.
Blue Comet junior Trent Clements (39-1) is ranked first at 106. Sophomore Kolton Misener (37-4) is second at 113. Freshman Trey Dillow (29-13) is fifth at 120.
Freshman Ty Leedy (31-7) is second at 132. Senior Logan McDonald (35-8) stands third at 145. Senior Brady McDonald (35-8) is ranked fifth at 152, while senior Parker Winder (39-3) is second at 160. Junior Brayden Dillow (40-1) stands second at 182. The McDonalds are twins, part of three sets of brothers on the squad. The duo and Winder have been to state every year.
Individually, Chanute has 19 all-time titles, though none since Brady Vogel in 2016. Chanute won three individual crowns from ’10-’19.
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